The Real History of Central Park: Seneca Village




Before Central Park was created, the landscape along what is now the Park’s perimeter from West 82nd to West 89th Street was the site of Seneca Village, a community of predominantly African-Americans, many of whom owned property. By 1855, the village consisted of approximately 225 residents.


One of few African-American enclaves at the time, Seneca Village allowed residents to live away from the more built-up sections of downtown Manhattan and escape the unhealthy conditions and racism they faced there.


Seneca Village began in 1825, when landowners in the area, John and Elizabeth Whitehead, subdivided their land and sold it as 200 lots. Andrew Williams, a 25-year-old African-American shoeshiner, bought the first three lots for $125. Epiphany Davis, a store clerk, bought 12 lots for $578, and the AME Zion Church purchased another six lots. From there a community was born. From 1825 to 1832, the Whiteheads sold about half of their land parcels to other African-Americans.


During the early 1850s, the City began planning for a large municipal park to counter unhealthful urban conditions and provide space for recreation. In 1853, the New York State Legislature enacted a law that set aside 775 acres of land in Manhattan—from 59th to 106th Streets, between Fifth and Eighth Avenues—to create the country’s first major landscaped public park.


The City acquired the land through eminent domain, the law that allows the government to take private land for public use.

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